Influence of smoking fewer cigarettes on exposure to tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide

N Engl J Med. 1986 Nov 20;315(21):1310-3. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198611203152102.


In the hope of reducing the adverse health consequences of smoking, physicians frequently advise their patients who cannot quit to smoke fewer cigarettes. Habitual smokers may compensate for the reduced number of cigarettes, however, by taking in more smoke per cigarette. We measured the intake of tar (estimated as mutagenic activity of the urine), nicotine, and carbon monoxide during short-term cigarette restriction. With a reduction from an average of 37 cigarettes to an average of 5 cigarettes per day, the intake of tobacco toxins per cigarette increased roughly threefold and daily exposure to tar and carbon monoxide declined only 50 percent. We conclude that smoking fewer cigarettes may reduce exposure to toxins and related adverse health consequences. However, consistent with a tendency to maintain intake of nicotine, the magnitude of the benefit is much less than expected. Whether "oversmoking" persists during long-term restriction of cigarettes requires further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbon Monoxide / administration & dosage*
  • Carbon Monoxide / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotine / metabolism
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Smoking*
  • Tars / administration & dosage*
  • Tars / metabolism
  • Urine


  • Tars
  • Nicotine
  • Carbon Monoxide